Buying frozen meat, what does the "sell-by" date really mean?

FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live)- What's in your freezer? And how long has it been there? A Whistleblower got us asking those questions. This whistleblower says, they were concerned about the meat at a local grocery store, because the sell-by dates have long since passed.

Take a peek inside your freezer and check-out your meat. Is the sell-by date coming up or is it a distant memory of the past? We spoke with a meat expert at NDSU. Meat Lab Manager, Spencer Wirt says, if the sell-by date is less than a year ago and it's vacuum sealed, it's still okay.

"Even if it passes that sell-by date, it's not going to harm you if you eat it. It just might not be visually appealing," says NDSU Meat Lab Manager, Spencer Wirt.

As is the case with this meat from a local store. You can see sell-by dates from January and February of this year.

"If you see a brown piece of meat on the cooler shelf, are you going to be scared of it? Because in all reality, it's just the meat reacting with oxygen," says Wirt.

He says, it's up to the retailers when it comes to leaving frozen meat that's passed its sell-by date, up for grabs. That's why Cash Wise in Fargo pulls its meat before the sell-by date. They tell us, they want consumers to see fresh meat when shopping. So if you're at a store and see a questionable sell by date, Wirt says to not worry too much.

"Once it's freezing, those spoilage micros aren't going to grow anymore. They are going to be dormant because they can't grow in that cold of temperatures," says Wirt.

He tells us, retailers have their own set of guidelines based on research and shelf life studies. We decided to not name the store involved because according to the North Dakota State Health Department, they're not doing anything wrong.

The USDA says, a "sell-by" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management, and it is not a safety date.